it was never the case that all terrorists were Muslim



Freddie deBoer used to blog at, and may again someday. Now he blogs here.

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17 Responses

  1. Avatar Roque Nuevo says:

    Isn’t your so-called argument an example of the “straw man?” Can you give examples of people who have said that “all terrorists are Muslims?” I don’t think they exist, since the examples of non-Muslim terrorists are well-known.

    On the other hand, isn’t it true that not all Muslims are terrorists but most terrorists are Muslims? Aside from this, isn’t it true that terrorists of other religions face widespread opposition from within their own groups? Isn’t it true that this contrasts with the Muslim world, where opposition to terrorism is a minority position?

    Indonesia is an interesting case, as you seem to recognize. It is the exception that proves the rule. It is the only nation that accepted Islam peacefully, through Muslim trade, rather than by conquest. Indonesia’s rather open and tolerant approach to Islam was described by VS Naipaul (Among the Believers) back in the early ’80s. I’m not really sure about it, but I think that this traditional Indonesian culture is gone now, with the invasion of the Saudi-financed fanatics. In Naipaul’s account, these people were still a fanatical minority.Report

  2. Avatar Freddie says:

    Bill Maher, for example, has repeatedly said that all terrorists are Muslims. Rod Dreher has said the same. There are very many others.

    If you would actually read my posts, Roque, you would see that I am not claiming that most terrorists aren’t Muslims. I am simply correcting a commonly held, but factually untrue statement, and in fact am making plain that this is all that I’m doing. It takes a special lack of self-criticism to complain of straw-manning by engaging in it.

    I promise you, as a matter both of personal anecdote and of expertise, I’m better equipped to judge Indonesia’s Muslim culture, and to call it fanatical is simply in error.Report

  3. Avatar Roque Nuevo says:

    Using Google for about thirty seconds failed to turn up an “all-terrorists-are-Muslims” quote by any of the two people you mention. Maybe it’s in there somewhere. But my point is that this is not a “commonly held” opinion by anyone serious, since it’s so obviously wrong. In fact, just about any “all of” or “none of” empirical statement will be easy to refute, as they surely taught you when you prepared for your SATs. That’s why I say you’re bravely destroying a straw man. Nobody really believes that all terrorists are Muslims.

    My point is that the Muslim world supports terrorism in a way that other religions or groups don’t. Even the ETA is a hated minority in the Basque Country, for example.

    Didn’t I say that Indonesia’s religious culture was “open and tolerant? (as described by VS Naipaul)” Didn’t I say that the fanaticism was imported from Saudi Arabia and not indigenous to Indonesia? Maybe you’re the one with the reading comprehension problems?

    I did ask you about the effects of the Wahabbi invasion on Indonesia, since I think it has destroyed traditional Indonesian tolerance. I was quite clear that I was asking you, as a self-styled expert on that country, to confirm or deny my own perception, which is apt to be mistaken.

    I never claimed that you thought that most terrorists weren’t Muslim. I just asked you if you agreed with this statement, since you hadn’t included in your original post. Another example of your not “actually reading” my comments.Report

  4. Avatar Freddie says:

    Daniel Pipes has said similar things. As has a former ambassador to the UN from Israel. As have literally dozens of wingnuttier members of the conservative blogosphere. Which prompts the question, why did you bother to deny that anyone has said such a thing in the first place, if not for the fact that you read what my position is, and then immediately argue the opposite without discretion?

    I did ask you about the effects of the Wahabbi invasion on Indonesia, since I think it has destroyed traditional Indonesian tolerance. I was quite clear that I was asking you, as a self-styled expert on that country, to confirm or deny my own perception, which is apt to be mistaken.

    That’s a frivolous and irresponsible question when it’s asked without a shred of evidence or context to explain why you would think such a thing.Report

  5. Avatar greginak says:

    RN- By what measure are you saying that most terrorists are Muslim??? Any proof for that? Now it is certainly true that most terrorists from Muslim countries are Muslim, but that doesn’t really say that much does it. Most American terrorists are white Christian’s
    (see T. McVeigh, anti-abortion terrorists, animal liberation, KKK, etc). Most terrorists in the UK were Irish Catholics, etc.

    Acceptance of terrorism is generally higher is countries that have no other tactical option. I’m sure most Muslim terrorist would rather fight from M-1 tanks or fly F-15’s.Report

  6. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    I think that this post does miss a larger point, though. I don’t think it was ever widespread amongst the intelligentsia that “all terrorists are Muslims” but I do think that this was an intended trickle-down belief for the huddled masses. And often people – or at least Americans, I can’t speak for other countries – often they conflate not only Arabs with Muslims (and don’t know the difference) but Muslims with terrorists. And it’s so easy to forget the Irish; to never hear about the Tamal Tigers; to ignore the violence throughout the world that is more often nationalistic than religious in nature. Perhaps this isn’t even intentional. Perhaps this is the natural result of focusing so much attention and media on the Muslim Terrorist and not educating our populace at all in history – our own or that of anyone else.Report

  7. Avatar Roque Nuevo says:

    I failed to find an “all-terrorists-are-Muslims” quote by Pipes either. Attributing such a thought to him is laughable. I’d really like to see you come up with a direct quote.

    I didn’t think my question on Indonesian religious culture was “frivolous and irresponsible.” I just thought it was a question. My impression is that Indonesia today is a center of al Qaeda-style Muslim fanaticism and that this has played havoc with traditional Indonesian religious culture. It’s not worth it to me to come up with the context and/or evidence you require so as to take the question seriously. So I respectfully withdraw the question. Happy now?Report

  8. Avatar Freddie says:

    Sure. But you’ll be held to the same standards that you apply to yourself.Report

  9. Avatar Roque Nuevo says:

    Glad to have made you happy, if that’s what the above comment means. I don’t see where the threat to “hold me to the same standards that [I] apply to [myself]” comes from. Go right ahead and hold me to them, for all I care. I can’t even figure out what you’re trying to say, but forget it. It’s just not important.Report

  10. Avatar Freddie says:

    No threat, Roque, just to say that if you are entitled to say ” I don’t want to justify this”, then so am I.Report

  11. Avatar Chris Dierkes says:

    My impression is that Indonesia today is a center of al Qaeda-style Muslim fanaticism and that this has played havoc with traditional Indonesian religious culture. It’s not worth it to me to come up with the context and/or evidence you require so as to take the question seriously.

    What…??? Indonesia just voted down Islamist parties in a national election by big-time majorities. Islamist parties not al-Qaeda (who wouldn’t even run much less have a constituency).

    Here’s one on the “popularity” of al-Qaeda in Pakistan. Let’s say it’s not high.

    When it’s arms length anti-Western imperialism, sure terrorism can score generally higher, but as soon as the real thing actually shows up on people’s doors in the form of bloodshed, then support craters. See Jordan, Iraq, Indonesia, now Pakistan. Meaning yes Muslims around the world are just like everybody else: they don’t like having their families blown up.

    Roque could you please stop mouthing this canard that terrorism is so much more widely accepted in the Muslim world? Opposition to terrorism is not some “minority” position in the Muslim world. For Allah’s sake, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah condemned the 9/11 attacks. Right after that attack, there was a pro-American rally in Tehran (in Tehran!!!). I can guarantee you that the Ayatollahs didn’t institute that rally.

    What has risen is anti-Americanism because of the Iraq occupation, the drone attacks in Pakistan, etc. That can certainly lead to a “soft-support” for terrorism in the abstract. On a questionnaire, in chat rooms, on Arabic TV, etc. But the actual number of actual terrorists is really really very small.

    This is not to say there aren’t huge problems throughout this part of the world. Tyranny, lack of education, lack of free-r markets. Where Britain has had domestic counter-terrorism success has come from treating it as a criminal nexus. Normally these guys fund through black market operations. Instead of focusing on our version of what we think they believe is, focus instead of breaking up their cells through police action.

    Same way they dealt with the IRA. The Muslim terrorists around the world are no different structurally, tactically, financially than other terrorist groups. And no they really do not have much more support from the populace. Where groups do have support (Hezbollah, Hamas, and even back in the day the IRA) is part of a nationalistic minority ethnic/religious group using violence to get political rights-sovereignty, economic access along with cultural self-determination. Some of those groups are genuinely nationalistic, some use asymmetric terror as a tactic (e.g. Hamas), some are criminal enterprises masking themselves in the resistance (large portions of the Taliban). All of whom if they have black market funding in a global economy–say drugs, human slave trade–can self-finance and do not need to worry too much about local support. They just have to make sure they aren’t outsiders completely on the bad side of the locals (see al-Qaeda in Iraq).Report

  12. Avatar Roque Nuevo says:

    Here’s some data points for you.

    Is Indonesia a haven for terrorists?

    Yes. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim county, is a vast archipelago with porous maritime borders, a weak central government, separatist movements, corrupt officials, a floundering economy, and a loosely regulated financial system—all characteristics which make it fertile ground for terrorist groups. While Indonesia is known as a secular, tolerant society that practices a moderate form of Islam, radical Islamists have gained momentum. U.S. officials and terrorism experts worry about al-Qaeda using Indonesia as a base for a Southeast Asian front in its campaign against “infidels,” Jews, and the United States. Indonesia resisted international pressure to crack down on local militants suspected of al-Qaeda ties until a devastating October 2002 attack on a Bali nightclub—and the simultaneous bombing of a U.S. consular office on the island—which killed more than 200 people, most of them foreign tourists. To its credit, since October 2002 the Indonesian government has cooperated with U.S. and Australian officials in their attempts to disrupt terrorist networks in Southeast Asia.
    Council on Foreign Relations

    I didn’t know that Hizbollah had condemned terrorism against us. I must have missed that somehow.

    So, I stand corrected: Muslim terrorist groups are nationalistic, not Muslim fanatics. The pro-American rally in Teheran must have been on a day when the “Death to America/Death to Israel” rallies were at a lull. So it’s really unfair to call them “Muslim” terrorist groups. Hizbollah, for example, should be called the Lebanese National Liberation Front, and not the “Party of God;” Hamas should be called the Palestinian Army of National Liberation and not the “Islamic Resistance Movement.”

    You can believe all this if you want to. I really don’t expect you to evaluate the evidence in any objective way. Aren’t you the Doctor of Theology here? If you can believe that some god was born two thousand years ago, untouched by “sin” and who died and was resurrected to redeem mankind of “sin,” then you’ll believe anything.Report

  13. Avatar Jon H says:

    “Is Indonesia a haven for terrorists?”

    The more significant question is whether the government and culture knowingly allow this situation to persist.

    It’s a bit silly to blame Indonesia’s people, let alone their religion, because terrorists find its geography advantageous. Hell, by that score, Indonesia is probably also a ‘haven’ for headhunting tribes and pirates, because they’re based in godforsaken remote places.Report

  14. Avatar Roque Nuevo says:

    I haven’t blamed anyone for anything. I’m just saying that radical Islam has a foothold in Indonesia, which aparently is a frivolous and irresponsible thing to say. If you want my opinion, I blame Islamic radicals for disturbing the only tolerant Muslim society on the planet. Furthermore, I blame Saudi Arabian Wahabbism for spreading radical Islam, in collusion with the Muslim Brothers, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hizbollah, and so forth.

    I know that theologians like Dr. Chris Dierkes here want us to believe that these groups are updated versions of Garibaldi-style nationalism, since all they want is “political rights, sovereignty, economic access, and cultural determination,” whatever that means. Fighting against imperialism. It’s a powerful idea that true believers will latch onto with alacrity, no matter how out of place it is as an analysis of the situation. Dr. Chris doesn’t want to analyze a situation, but only to push his beliefs, like the good theological doctor that he is. Further, Dr. Chris wants us to believe that the US is responsible for these radical groups because of the invasion of Iraq and predator drone attacks in Pakistan, etc etc. Like I said, theologians will believe just about anything convenient for them so it’s not really worth it to point out radical Islamic groups originated long before the US was even a presence in the Islamic/Arab world, let alone had invaded anyone.

    The point about Indonesia, according to Freddie, is that it’s a counter example to the “bullshit” (Freddie dixit)claim that Muslim nations lack religious freedom. It is a counter example, but in the sense that it’s the exception that proves the rule, i.e., that Muslim nations lack religious freedom. That’s because Indonesia is one of the few Muslim nations that accepted Islam peacefully. As even Freddie will have to admit, Islam spread by conquest everywhere else. Everywhere else, Muslim nations lack religious freedom.Report

  15. Avatar Katherine says:

    Good post, Freddie. One interesting think I learned in a Mideast History course was that the record-holder for the largest number of suicide attacks is the Tamil Tigers, not any Muslim group.

    Groups like Hezbollah and Hamas largely attract popular support due to nationalistic and practical aspects rather than religious fanaticism of the population at large. They have support because they survived Israeli invasions. They have support because they’re seen as standing up for their country. Hezbollah has support in large part because Iran sends them tens of millions per year which they use to provide services – hospitals, agricultural training, wells, low-cost seeds and fertilizers, free tractors and other machienery, cheap credit, social security – that the government doesn’t; even people in the middle class use Hezbollah’s hospitals because they’re better. Domestic terrorist groups gain support through much the same method – they’re half military wing, half service-provider wing, and in countries where the government is doing a crummy job of providing services, that gets them support. The mosque is one of the few places it’s (relatively) safe to speak out against a dictatorial government; that gets them support too.

    I honestly don’t know why people here waste their time debating with Roque; his positions have neither nunace, understanding of the topic, nor factual backing. To just note one, Turkey has religious freedom and, in terms of the proportion of the population that are adherents (>90%), is far more a “Muslim nation” than the US is a Christian one.Report

  16. Avatar Roque Nuevo says:

    Katherine has caught me in the same trap that I caught Freddie in: the unqualified empirical statement. Mine was “everywhere else Muslim nations lack freedom of religion.” There is an exception for Indonesia and now Turkey (according to Katherine, but see below).

    But, it’s still true that Muslim nations, in general, lack religious freedom. It’s still true that Western nations, in general, enjoy religious freedom. It’s still true that there is more religious freedom for Muslims in Western nations than for Christians or Jews in Muslim nations. Etc Etc. This is the problem. The problem is not solved or explained away by holding up a few counter examples, which themselves have very particular historical conditions, which has led them to evolve in way so different from most Muslim nations.

    Most of all, it’s still true that the most dangerous practicioners of the “suicide bomb” today are Muslims. By now, we all know that the Tamil Tigers invented this tactic. But the world believes it’s Muslim. The world is wrong, of course, but it’s a very trivial distinction to be making here, on a comment page. An analogy is that Ampex corporation invented the videocassette recorder/player. The world believes that the Japanese did it, just because they were able to take this invention and mass produce/mass market it. It’s an astounding “true fact” that the Japanese did not invent it, but it’s still consistent with capitalism, since the salesmen always get the highest rakeoff the profits. I hope that this is enough “nunance” for Katherine. I’m afraid it’s too much, though, for her mind, pickled as it is in a rancid third-worldism.

    Some “factual backing”: Nine out of thirteen of the most “egregious violaters” of religious freedom are Muslim, as are six of the eleven on the religious freedom “watch list,” which includes Turkey. So Katherine will have to accuse the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom of also lacking “nunance,” understanding, and facts:

    A U.S. government panel listed 13 countries Friday as “egregious” violators of religious freedom.

    The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s annual report named Myanmar, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

    It recommended that the Obama administration designate them as “countries of particular concern” or CPC.

    The group has issued a watch list that includes Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Venezuela, countries that don’t rise to the level of a CPC but need to be monitored.

    Of course, I have provided “factual backing” for my statement that Indonesia is a haven for radical Islam and for my statement that terrorism is “terrorism is so much more widely accepted in the Muslim world.” This contrasts with Freddie’s, Dr Chris’s and Katherine’s reliance on anecdote and urban legend.

    Otherwise, Katherine has memorized her rancid third-worldist anti imperialism talking points very well. She must be a theologian, like Dr Chris. It’s all there: providing services, defending the nation, the bogus military/political “wing” distinction, etc etc.Report